Wednesday, July 23, 2003

The more I think about the "small scale = intimacy" knot, the more I have to examine its constituent parts. Yesterday, it seemed that intimacy involved some human parameters in the viewed object. Today, I'd disagree with that sweeping conclusion. For example, in comparing my responses to Constance Hunt's small piece of a nude to Kathe Todd Hooker's close view of a rose, neither one triggered a sense of intimacy. Therein lies the puzzle.

It is possible, of course, that I'm a defective viewer. To determine that, you would have to go look for yourself, wouldn't you? For me, all I can do is unravel my own responses to discover what they entail, and test them to see whether they seem relevant, consistent, or just quirks. The more I examine the issue of scale and intimacy, the more I conclude that the first factor does not inevitably produce the second. Perhaps a small scale object has a higher probability of feeling intimate, but the smallness does not assure it.

Tapestry has a long tradition of monumentally scaled works that push viewers back in order to see them comfortably. They tend to overpower you into feeling insignificant and can be difficult to comprehend -- they take hours to view rather than minutes. Technically, large scale tapestry retained life-sized proportions to convey that "it really happened," but the sensation sought by most tapestry makers was not intimate but panoramic, wide in narrative scope, and holistically inclusive of detail and meaning. Such an agenda suited large-scale work. In the process, they often included a plurality of details in order to maximize information and thus realism... "yes, they fought that battle when the strawberries were blooming." In contrast, then, you'd think that small-scale tapestry would take on the opposite set of characteristics. Rather than panoramic, the tapestry would focus in on something, much as close-up photography works. Rather than wide in scope, it's narrative would limit itself to a moment. And, rather than holistically inclusive, it would select only a few details. All of which might add up to a sense of intimacy. But it doesn't quite do that.

Now that a larger number of small scale tapestries get exhibited, I can think about them empirically rather than theoretically. It makes sense that the range of possibilities extends further than just "small scale = intimate." So I really shouldn't be surprised. It wasn't until I saw an intimate large-scale piece juxtaposed to a wide selection of small-scale work focused on a particularly intimate topic that was monumental in scope (the MTP) that I saw the error of my thinking.

I do enjoy going back over previous conclusions and re-working them. It is one of the aspects of theoretical writing that most people gloss over: without the errors, no corrections or adjustments get made. We need the errors in order to see -- and think -- more clearly.